On a Learning Spree, Part 3: The Voice

I even keep some of my old textbooks in my office, to remind me of a career gone astray. (Yes, I know at least one book is not on linguistics.)

Sometimes one’s professional and personal interests merge, and this is one of those cases. Those of you who know me in person know that I’ve used my voice both for work and fun most of my life. (And oh yes, I almost forgot the MANY years I studied linguistics; perhaps I learned something about how speech works there.)

I’ve always adored choral singing. Harmony gives me goosebumps, a lot. Singing was my escape from teen angst in high school, brought me joy in the Unitarian Universalist church choir, challenged me when I was in a folk/rock trio, and stretched my skills in some larger local choruses, where I got to sing beautiful music with talented people.

I’ve also used my voice for work, from teaching to recording voiceovers for corporate training material. I love to read aloud, so this was always fun, and I learned so much about making myself sound clear and natural during the years I did this.

Where are my lost notes? I can’t see them in there!

That was then, but now is now

Well, now two things have happened, one good, and one bad.

The bad thing is that a couple of years ago I “lost” part of my vocal range. Suddenly, the notes B, C, and D above middle C would not come out. That put the kaibosh on my choral singing efforts. When you are the only person singing a part, and your notes don’t come out, it feels really bad. I had my suspicions about what had happened (and no, it was not a blocked throat chakra), but I wanted to know why.

The good thing is that I started to work again with the team at who narrates some of our training materials at my day job. I had heard they were interested in improving their narration skills, so I thought maybe I could read up on it to see if there was some way to help.

What to do?

Since I’m in this voracious learning mode, I promptly went and bought some books (reference list is below). It’s interesting, because even though I spent all those years I read all about language and linguistics, I concentrated on analyzing semantics and pragmatics in the language of other people, and I never read much about what to do with my own speech patterns.

It’s interesting, but right away I realized it’s hard to learn how to talk from a written book. Luckily, one of the books, The Voice Book, comes with a CD of examples. This book is more “technical” in that it goes into the mechanics of how the voice box works. And this was the book that told me what happened to my singing voice. I had stretched my poor vocal folds too much by singing out of my range. While it was true that I was capable of singing the notes used by first sopranos, my natural range is more of an alto. So, I broke my voice. Shoot. I also have been diagnosed with silent reflux, which is hard on the voice, too. Next I will try to figure out how to help myself get back to at least a little singing!

The next book I read was It’s the Way You Say It, which focuses more on social ways of using your voice. One thing I like about this one is that it actually isn’t hard to figure out what the author’s talking about without hearing the sounds. I haven’t finished this one, but I already see lots of helpful hints I can share with my colleagues at work to help their narration move up to the next level. Plus, there are concrete examples for business and other situations that just plain make sense.

Now, the final book I got, Voice and Diction, is a real gem. It’s a textbook originally written in 1958 that’s still in use today, after many editions. It is more academic, so it would help to have a bit of a background in speech, but the huge collection of exercises is worth the price (at least of a used copy). Once we figure out what our issues are, we will have all sorts of ways to practice.

I’m rather excited to have these materials to both improve my own speech patterns and those of my colleagues. We all have things to work on, but I never had the tools (other than intuition) to work on effective verbal communication before.

I realize I have strayed from writing about nature and the ranch, but if I ever want to tell others about it, I now can do a better job of it.



Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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